Rev. Dr.Molly Scherm
In this Epiphany season in our year with Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Today we have heard the blessings and the woes, and next week we will continue with Jesus’ teaching about right behavior toward one’s neighbor.
In the narrative we’ve heard in this Epiphany season
And now he begins to teach what it is that the Realm of God looks like.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, often talks about “God’s dream for the world”. In the teachings of the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus begins to outline just what it is that God envisions, what God dreams, what God pays attention to.
In short, God’s dream for the world pretty completely reverses the world as it is:
Those who are poor, who are hungry, who are weeping now are blessed by God,
While those who are rich, and full, and laughing now have had theirs, and will find themselves without.
Jesus echoes the words of Mary’s song, that God “fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty”. In the same vein, Jesus has described the nature of his own ministry using the word’s of Isaiah:
God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.
Reversing the conditions of the world as it is.
We even see this in the details of the way Luke pictures the moment for us: unlike the sermon in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus ascends a mountain to teach, here Jesus stands on a “level place”, right in the midst of those who have come in need of healing.
His words, too, are direct: rather than declaring “blessed are those who…”, he speaks personally to those in need: “blessed are YOU…”.
There’s even a fascinating suggestion in Luke’s observation that Jesus “looks up” to address himself to the disciples. Have the disciples stepped apart from the unruly crowd to separate themselves?
Is he perhaps saying to them:
“These hurting folks around us are the ones who God notices, the ones God cares about. We need to do the same.”
Father Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the first to articulate the themes of Liberation Theology, observes that God has a “preferential love for the poor” not because the poor are any better than anyone else spiritually, but because they suffer in an unjust world, and because it is God’s nature to love where there is suffering.
If the world were divided into those who suffer and are blessed and those who are comfortable and are not, where would I find myself? It’s an unpleasant question to ask. So what do the blessings and the woes mean for us who are advantaged? Are we cursed to the extent that our lives are easy?
I think the wisdom Jesus offers here is that wealth and privilege are dangerous because they have the power to separate us from God and from the human community. When we are comfortable, we so easily lose touch with our need for God. We start thinking that the stuff of the world is what’s important and meaningful.
This is basically what we heard from Jeremiah this morning:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
(but) Blessed are those whose trust is in the Lord.
The opportunity those of us who have been either inadvertently or by our own efforts privileged by the world is to notice those who are without worldly blessings, who are hungry or lost or suffering, and to care about them, sharing what we have.
We are invited to stand on the level ground with those who are broken and oppressed, to address them personally, and to do something that makes a difference.
As I have been thinking about this gospel passage in recent weeks, I have thought a lot about one of the ministries of this parish that I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of.
The Caregivers Support group has met every other week since September 2016, as a place where those who are caring for a loved one with a chronic condition can be together. Members do both practical sharing of problem-solving strategies AND they support one another by listening with acceptance and understanding.
I have learned from my own listening in the group that living with chronic or progressive illness – whether as the sufferer or the caregiver – is an experience of loss. With serious ongoing illness
Jesus said “Blessed are you who weep”. Walking with the caregivers has shown me ways in which this is true.
The caregivers in the support group model and convey God’s love to one another as they listen, as they laugh together without judgement, as they offer practical tidbits of advice on how they have dealt with common problems. They offer God’s love as they care about one another’s losses.
I observe, also, that in acknowledging their fatigue, their fears and frustrations AND YET continually rising to meet the challenges that face them, these caregivers are experiencing the God who is within them and working through them.
Honestly, at the end of the day I don’t think any of us are exclusively woeful or exclusively blessed.
The Good News is that God hears us and cares for us, God is close to us and remains with us.
Our is to accept the blessing and to BE the blessing.
Let us stand together on a level place and listen to one another.
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